A Travellerspoint blog

August 2012

'If it rained stones, we would find a way to survive.'

A Tajik proverb

sunny 35 °C

Life is tough in Tajikistan, but as the saying goes, they are a resilient folk. A few factoids about the country for you, coz we all love those, to paint a bit of a picture:

IMG_1424.jpg

- 93% of the country is mountainous (imagine the state of the roads)
- 45% of GDP comes from remittances, mostly the menfolk sending roubles back from working in the Russian construction industry
- Imports of goods and services make up 60% of GDP

Take any one of these facts - very little room to grow food, no local industry to support the economy, no people to provide a labour force - and any country would find it difficult to survive. Add them all together and you have yourself a very poor state. Throw in a totalitarian and corrupt government, fuelled to a large extent by the trafficking of Afghanistan's opium, and stones raining down from the sky suddenly doesn't seem so far fetched.

The day we arrived in Tajikistan the government kicked off an offensive, helicopter gunships and all, against 'rebels' in the south west of the country. 'Rebels' being those loyal to the Tajik border police (as opposed to the central government). Said 'rebels' were apparently responsible for the murder of a government official 2 days prior. The fighting took place mostly in one town, Khorog, near the Afghan border (read - drug trade). Other than the fact that it had happened all other information about the situation, including casualties, was sparse and varying. All communications had been cut. And this town was the gateway to the supposed highlight of our trip in Tajikistan - the Pamir Highway.

Melon man, 24 hours

Melon man, 24 hours

Bizarrely, the following day when we found out about this news everyone was going about their business in the north as if nothing had happened. Everyone telling us not to worry, it was a long way away. Imagine for a moment.... Gerry Brownlee was murdered in Whanganui. Two days later, without any sort of enquiry, the government, assuming the Whanganui Police Force are guilty of the crime, sends in the helicopter gunships and guns down the gangsters, and the unfortunate civilians in the way. Roads are closed, communications cut and no one knows the true outcome of the events. And the next day everyone else in the country is just going, 'Lah-lah lah-lah laah', getting on with their usual business. Difficult isn't it.

President Rahmon - he's got wheat, how can you not trust this face?!

President Rahmon - he's got wheat, how can you not trust this face?!

So we went hiking in the Fan Mountains and a week later headed to the capital Dushanbe to get the low down on roads, borders and the events. The guest house we stayed at was like a tourist refugee camp, choked with people who had been evacuated from the region before and following the fighting, and those, like us, who had always planned on heading there. We gathered information from embassies, websites, travellers, and it all conflicted. Communications to the region were still cut so no one really knew what the story was. We decided it wasn't the kind of situation we should head into so drew our Tajikistan journey to an end earlier than planned and made for the border.

Wholesome Friday night fun in the capital

Wholesome Friday night fun in the capital

It was definitely disappointing not to be able to head into the Pamirs, massive mountains, rural villages, adventures galore. Tajiks had been so welcoming and generous, the landscape spectacular, we had been enjoying our time there a lot. But we were the lucky ones. It wasn't our homes burning and we could leave.

Posted by chrisgulik 09:48 Archived in Tajikistan Comments (0)

One of life's highs

Trekking in the Fan Mountains, Tajikistan

sunny 28 °C

The Fan Mountains are rugged, bare, remote, and so high (peaking at 5,487m). Glaciers drip feed gurgling ice blue rivers and stone cold, perfectly blue, alpine lakes. It is a spectacular environment; we spent four days hiking through it and it was absolutely fantastic.

Aluaddin Lakes

Aluaddin Lakes

Glacial rivers

Glacial rivers

We joined forces with a group of 4 Frenchies in their 50s and formed an expedition: 6 hikers, one guide, one cook, two doneky guys and 6 donkeys! It's true there were nearly as manys staff as hikers, but we organised the trip through a local, community based tourism, organisation. So we felt justified in the seeming excess as it provided some income to some locals that really needed it. Also, I've gotta say, it was pretty sweet carrying just a little day bag while our donkey carried the heavy load (that was a first!).

Alauddin Pass, 3,860m

Alauddin Pass, 3,860m

Local kids, Artush village

Local kids, Artush village

Our trail head started in the ridiculously friendly village of Artush. We spent an afternoon walking around the village the day before we set off hiking.We watched village life - donkeys baring heavy loads, house builders, water collectors, laundry washers beside a stream heating water in shallow pans to get those stubborn stains out. A local kid with a bit of english picked up on us pretty quick and insisted we come to have tea at his english teacher's hosue. Which we did. We walked through a gate, into a large veggie garden, and in the moments we walked to the house we had picked up a trail of 5 older women and many more children. We were sat with ceremony beside Nana lying on her death bed in the front room, and a spread of jams, nuts, fruits, breads and tea was set before us. A wonderful encounter, made all the better by Farsida, the beautiul intelligent young women, formerly an english teacher, who could translate for us. Her husband didn't want her to work once they married, so she left her job teaching english at a university to become a mother to her children in a remote (albeit beautiful) village. While he worked as a taxi driver in Moscow. Needless to say we were both incredibly frustrated on her behalf.

Donkeys!

Donkeys!

And then we walked. Up the valley past summer pastures where locals camp out in the warm months with their herds, seeking fresh grass. Everyday we climbed a pass, the biggest being 3,800m. Every pass required more than a 700m ascent. And every time we reached the top of the pass a new vista of even bigger peaks would unveil itself, along with even more peaks leading off into the distance. Every night we camped wild beside said beautiful lakes. We never slept below 2,800m. Hence each evening's swim required a good squeal on entry and much flustering to get out as quick as possible. Oh, but we were so refreshed when we did. It was a landscape I had never spent so much time in. The hills are barren as they are so high, which also means your views are always uninterrupted - no trees or bush to get in they way. Many a snow capped peak, waterfalls of rocks and a multitude of rock and alpine colours. Ahhh, it was incredible.

Camping at Kulikalon Lakes

Camping at Kulikalon Lakes

I write this in the courtyard of our guest house in Dushanbe, the capital. We are assessing our next move, made more complex by fighting in the south west of the country. But more on that, and the rest of this wonderful country, later.

Much love.

Morning reflection at the Aluaddin Lakes

Morning reflection at the Aluaddin Lakes

Posted by chrisgulik 01:04 Archived in Tajikistan Comments (4)

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